Dir: MichaelWinterbottom. UK. 2004. 65mins
Although scarcely inmid-career, Michael Winterbottom has attempted almost every available filmgenre in which to test his considerable talents. 9 Songs, filmeddigitally, like his 2003 Berlin Golden Bear winner In This World, is hisbest shot at a film about sex.
You could almost call it aporn movie - and some assuredly will - but despite sequences which includecunnilingus, fellatio and ejaculation, this paean to physical obsession isalmost certainly intended to be a kind of love story. Whether it succeeds ornot is really up to the individual viewer. But it is perhaps advisable not tosee 9 Songs shortly after breakfast.It needs the night-time.
The two central charactersare a young Arctic scientist (who recalls his liaison from the icy wastes inwhich he works in the first sequence) and the American girl visiting London forwhom he falls. They meet at a gig at the Brixton Academy and, in between theirlove-making sessions back in his flat, meet there regularly.
Hence the nine songs, witheach gig containing a number from one of the bands on display, with MichaelNyman contributing a brief piano solo as his 60th birthday is celebrated. Thebands include Black Rebel Motor Cycle Club, the Von Bondies, Super FurryAnimals, the Dandy Warhols and Franz Ferdinand, and their songs chime in wellenough with the obsessive tone of the film.
How Winterbottom managed totraverse the intercourse that follows each tune, without appearing eithervoyeuristic or self-consciously aware that this is only a film, is one of 9Songs' small miracles. Another is how the actors managed to cope with thecameras.
Kieran O'Brien is aprofessional actor but the other is an amateur (the name given in the creditsis a pseudonym), an American who didn't wish to be named initially since she isshortly going to university. She has little to learn about sex, however,appearing to be the provocateur of the pairing, leading him on between lines ofcoke and not averse to exhausting even his capacity to find new ways to slakeher desires.
There is a short sequencewhen they go bathing by the sea and shout "I love you" to each other. Butthough the final parting induces tears, the tenderness of true feeling islargely absent from the film, as is a sense of humour that might leaven thepill.
Asked why he wanted to make 9Songs, Winterbottom replied that he couldn't think of an adequate reasonnot to. That is not an entirely satisfactory answer.
Those who do not want towatch others having sex will decry the film. Those who do may find it lesserotic than they hoped.
It does not always followthat good film-makers make the best sex movies. The majority of viewers, whowill be moved by curiosity, may find 9 Songs a strange episode inWinterbottom's career. But, as he says, why not'
Prod co: Revolution Films
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
UK/US dist: Tartan
Prod: Andrew Eaton
Assoc prod: Melissa Parmenter
Eds: Mat Whitecross, Winterbottom
Cine: Marcel Zyskind
Sound: Stuart Wilson
Main cast: Kieran O'Brien,Georgia Burke